Disclaimer: I attended parts of the afternoon and evening sessions of Maryland's volleyball camp at the urging of my friend Harry M. Other than casual greetings (with one small exception) I did not interact with the coaches, current roster or recruits. The contents of this story are based on my observations and those of my friends Harry and Dan and chatter among other adults on the sidelines most of whom, I assume, have daughters attending the camp.
Setting the table
Maryland volleyball's 2015 roster sports four freshmen: Abby Bentz, Angel Gaskin, Liz Twilley and Kelsey Wicinski. In their sophomore season, the roster will again feature four freshmen: Nell Drummey, Gia Milana, Katie Myers, and Taylor Smith. Five freshmen join the Terps for the 2017 season: Lexi Alden, Samantha Burgio, Samantha Drechsel, Jada Gardner and Erika Pritchard. And we know of at least one verbal commitment for the 2018 class, Rainelle Jones.
Although only 13 played, all 14 of these players were on hand getting their first taste of campus life and the adventure of being coached by Steve Aird and his staff. In short, the future of Maryland volleyball was on display and what I saw struck me as similar to the renderings of the new Cole Field House - a future piece of Maryland athletics with a true wow factor.
Before I move on to my observations, I need to add another set of disclaimers. First, I'm leaving for Scotland Monday and my attention is somewhat divided. Second, I'm not a volleyball coach so the accuracy of my observations are certainly open to question. Third, I don't know how many of you are familiar with the clip below but
while my life doesn't resemble the first minute and a half or so neither does my ability to identify the great dancers (e.g. volleyball players) from the merely good ones. (And if you're not familiar with this, you should watch it. It's among the best opening movie sequences ever.)
The last caveat comes by way of an apology to those players - Kelsey, Nell and Sam B. who Will Likely serve principally defensive roles on the squad. It's like the old saying I'm about to coin, "To the hitters goes the glory."
Observations and asides
Let me start with 2015 freshman outside hitter Angel Gaskin. Angel enrolled in January and has had the benefit of both training in a college environment and participating in spring practice. And it shows. I can't begin to predict Angel's ceiling but I can say that she looks like a stronger and more technically competent player in July than she was in April. If the arc of her improvement continues, I expect she will contribute more this fall than many may have originally projected.
Another member of the 2015 class, Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year Liz Twilley, impressed me with the accuracy of her attack and her positive attitude on the court especially as the day grew later and fatigue began to show. To my eyes, she still seems a bit slight to excel in the very physical B1G but if she stays healthy, she should be able to contribute.
Two players seemed to handle most of the setting duties Abby Bentz and Taylor Smith. Within my limited ability to observe the court, I watched Taylor much more than I watched Abby. Two factors led me to this focus. First, Taylor was typically setting for Gia and Sam D.. Since I'd seen Liz lead Oakdale to the Maryland AA Championship, and had seen Angel in the spring, I wanted to watch Gia and Sam - players I'd only seen on video. Second, I was also struck by her size, her ability to block balls at the net and how softly she set the ball. She needs to become a bit more consistent with her sets and to develop defensively but her potential is immediately apparent.
I didn't have the chance to see Katie Myers who attended the camp but was sidelined with a minor injury. However, the chatter on the sideline is that she had an outstanding summer on the club circuit. She could be a player to watch when she joins the class of 2016.
As for the first committed star of the 2016 class, Gia Milana, she showed power from the front row as well as the back and the ability to hit a heavy ball. Given a good set, the ball explodes off Milana's swing with a resounding boom that I could identify even when I wasn't looking at the action. I'd hear that sound, look up and see that I was right - except when I wasn't. In those instances it was usually Drechsel's ball that had deceived me. And, as a member of the 2017 freshman class, Drechsel has two years to add to that power.
While I'm on the subject of 2017, I should add that Lexi Alden, another player who is somewhat slight of frame, displayed a wide range of skill in her shot making. She also had deceptive hang time and a brave willingness to swing all out on any reasonably playable ball. Jada Gardner, a player Aird snatched out of Texas, looked more comfortable than Alden hitting from different spots on the floor and looks physically further along than Alden in terms of general strength.
I didn't closely watch two other Terps hatchlings - local products Erika Pritchard (2017) and Rainelle Jones (2018). However, Pritchard had some moments when she showed why the staff prized her so highly. At this point, Jones looks to be more an athlete than a volleyball player but her raw athleticism creates some wow moments.
What the girls want
As a group, these girls seem to be thrilled to be coming to Maryland and are already developing a measure of teamwork and camaraderie that will only deepen as they become fully immersed as Terps. As one parent said to me, "They all want to build their own legacy. Every one of these girls wants to say they were part of the foundation that built Maryland into a volleyball power."
On my way out, I stopped to chat with a player I've watched since her freshman season. We talked about her summer job, her health and her parents both of whom I know. In parting, I mentioned that I'd been glad to be able to sneak a peek at the future of Maryland volleyball. In the one comment I'll put on the record, she said, "This is it. Everyone on the court is either on the team or committed. And they're all studs."
What the girls need
I don't expect the Terps to have immediate success. I do think they can improve on their 2014 record. I anticipate they will win nine - and with a great effort possibly 10 - of the games on their non-conference schedule and a reasonable expectation would be a step up to four or five wins in conference play. That conference win total potentially doubles in 2016 and adds another five or six wins in the 2017 season.
Let me be Delphic without being cryptic. Volleyball is fun and exciting to watch. For Maryland, greatness awaits. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon. My advice to you: Be Ilsa Lund and get on the plane with Victor Lazlo. As for me, Captain Renault and I are off to Brazzaville. (Well, Louis is off to Brazzaville. I'm off to St. Andrews. Bring it home, Jordan.)